"22 Jump Street" could be the greenest comedy sequel of the new century so far, a movie that takes recycling crime caper clichés to absurdist extremes.
It comes from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directing team who gave us the 2012 hit comedy "21 Jump Street," a parody of the 1987-1991 Fox crime drama starring Johnny Depp. More important, Lord and Miller also delivered one of the best movies of 2014 so far, the subversively inspired and more ambitious comedy "The Lego Movie."
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"22 Jump Street"★ ★
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare, Amber Stevens
Directed by: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Other: A Columbia Pictures release. Rated R for drug references, language, nudity, sexual references, violence. 110 minutes
All three films mess with the conventions of their genres -- the trademark of a Lord and Miller production -- but "22 Jump Street" goes copycat crazy with its clichés, then commands comedy credit for constantly acknowledging that it has gone copycat crazy with its clichés.
This movie is so self-aware of its movie-ness that it goes way beyond meta. It's meta-sophomorphic.
"22 Jump Street" begins where "21" jumped off, with undercover officers Jenko and Schmidt (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, together again) concluding a high school drug case and now heading off to solve another drug case in college.
First, Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) launches into a thinly disguised condemnation of sequels, pointing out that "nobody cared about a Jump Street reboot," but a lot of money has been invested "to make sure Jump Street keeps going."
(Not to jump ahead, but the most inspired part of "22 Jump Street" is the end, hilariously demonstrating just how far the "Jump Street" brand can keep going.)
Schmidt and Jenko, back under the command of Captain Dickson (a scowling Ice Cube, or is that redundant?), head off to MC State to find a mystery man who apparently sold super fatal drugs -- called WHY-PHY -- to a coed.
This flimsy plot barely connects the rest of the story as Jenko and Schmidt lurch, run, punch and shoot their way through a series of familiar genre situations designed to ridicule as many stupid clichés as possible in the 110-minute period.
They each get part of a split-screen, even as they're standing in the same place.
They go after a wanted drug kingpin (Peter Stormare) and his henchmen in a typically insane highway chase, starring lots of stunt doubles and special effects.
Once on campus under their assumed names Doug and Brad, Jenko and Schmidt become tested as a couple. Jenko discovers his perfect soul mate in frat house president and football hero Zook (Wyatt Russell), who doesn't just complete Jenko, he completes his sentences, too.
Meanwhile, Schmidt falls for a cute coed named Maya (Amber Stevens), never suspecting the cliched relationship complication we suspect he's fallen into.
"22 Jump Street" is a shoot-and-miss movie with a lot of misses, like the zillion bullets that fail to hit their targets.
Does this cliché become suddenly funny just because Maya's psycho roommate (Jillian Bell) points out that nobody ever gets shot during gunfights?
How many derisive comments on how old Schmidt and Jenko look for college kids can we take? How many jokes about Jenko and Schmidt's emotional couple's bond can sustain the humor?
"22 Jump Street" never quite works up to "Airplane" speed as a cliché critique.
Nonetheless, Hill and Tatum provide undeniable chemistry as best buds in undercover blue, one short and stocky, the other tall and chiseled.
They're like a classic Abbott & Costello team. If Abbott resembled Hercules.